[review + giveaway] With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

Whether you like to draw, paint, write, sculpt, bake or carve, there’s nothing as magical, empowering, or satisfying as creating “something new that never was before.”

With My Hands: Poems About Making Things, written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson (Clarion Books, 2018), celebrates the joy of turning an idea into something real and tangible with your very own hands.

The 26 mostly rhyming poems cover everything from soap carving, knot-tying and origami, to making birdhouses, pinatas, toy parachutes, tie-dye shirts, leaf pictures and collages. The opening poem reveals the unique power and province of the maker (love the thumbprint art!):


I am making
something new
with my hands
my head
my heart.

That’s what makers do.

A maker starts with
an empty space
and stuff.

A maker
through mistakes.
A maker
must be tough.

A maker is
a tinkerer.
A maker will

A maker creates
something new

All the lovingly crafted poems are charming, engaging, accessible, and fun to read aloud. Thanks to Amy’s skillful use of diction, rhyme, rhythm, pacing, and repetition, the poetic forms perfectly reflect the activity being described.

In “Soap Carving,” a whale slowly emerges “bit by bit” from a bar of soap, as we sense the speaker’s patience and determination in what can be a lengthy process. By contrast, the speaker in “Tie-Dye Shirt” relates in rapid fire fashion the easy steps she took:

I made a tie-dye.
Didn’t buy it.
Tied it.
Dipped it.
Dyed it.
Untied it.
Shook it.
Dried it.
Wore it.

Try it!

The rewards of homemade vs. store-bought are also touted in “Card,” where a young boy decides to make his own Father’s Day card rather than buy one, since “No dad is like mine.” And in “Spaceship,” a boy realizes he’d rather build his own toy after the spaceship he made from the box directions fell short of the ones he sees “rocketing” inside his mind every day.

While reading about process, motivation, and pride in accomplishment, I especially liked the different personalities that emerged, the unmistakable child-like voices that will no doubt resonate with readers:


I cut a parachute from plastic
tied my guy on with elastic
threw him from a window (drastic)
watched him drift to earth — fantastic!

The icing on the cake for this strong and balanced collection might be the ingenious concrete poems. The words in “Glitter Picture” are randomly sprinkled across the page as we revel in Amy’s masterful use of assonance and alliteration: “a starry stream of winking sprinkles drizzle on my picture in a glinting glowing gust as I sing and scatter glitter dazzled by its diamond dust.” And then there’s the fabulous “Knitting” — where alternating phrases are presented on a slant in two columns to replicate stitches interweaving. Love!

Fancher and Johnson’s ebullient mixed media illustrations, rendered in acrylic, crayon, ink, colored pencil and cut paper collage, beautifully capture the unleashed spirit of creativity, and embody the very essence of handcrafting.

The enthusiasm and exuberance are contagious; readers will find themselves reaching for the nearest paint brush, pen, pair of scissors, mound of clay or sketchbook, as they see examples of the projects described in the poems and want to get in on the fun.

I also love the diverse group of makers and the subtle gender bending (a boy knitting!). Nature photos and various cut paper patterns add texture and interest, while body language and facial expressions depict the sheer enjoyment of making.

The title and final poem, “With My Hands,” addresses the transformational power of art: “For the thing that I made/is a part of me now./I changed it./It changed me.” What could be better?

Here are several more of my particular favorites (yes, there’s one about baking, my favorite art!). Enjoy!



I learn to draw by watching.
I learn to draw from books.
I pay attention to my life.
I notice how it looks.

When I see a spider
I do not hurry past.
I pull out paper, pencil.
I sketch quietly, and fast.

I learn to draw by staying still.
I follow every line.
I love to draw because I know —
what I draw is mine.



Hold a lump of clay.
What does it want to be?
Make a coil.
Pinch it.
Roll it.
Set it free.
You will hear it tell you
what it is
what it is not.
And you will know
if you should shape
a puffin
or a pot



You’re not even looking
but you know
we have been cooking
for we’re filling
up the kitchen
with a smell
of something good.
We are stirring
hands aflutter
mixer whirring
eggs and butter.
We resemble
clouds of flour
(as two
busy bakers should).
And these goodies
we are making
were a batter.
Now they’re baking
into cookies.
Will you help us
eat them up?

We knew you would.



I roll and stack
my snowman
and fat.

I give him
one red
one blue eye
a carrot nose
my cowboy hat.

At last I say
You’re looking good.
His rock teeth
form a grin.

I hug a mug
of cocoa
with my hands
when I go in.


Warm sugar cookies courtesy of Mr. Cornelius and Tiny Bear Chef. Please help yourself!


Well, after those last two poems, we simply must hug a mug of cocoa and polish off some cookies in honor of Amy, Lou, and Steve. Congratulations to all of you awesome makers, and thank you for creating this book with your hands, your heads, your hearts!



WITH MY HANDS: Poems About Making Things
written by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
illustrated by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson
published by Clarion Books/HMHCo.
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-7, 32 pp.
*On shelves March 27, 2018

โ™ฅ๏ธ Enjoy the cool book trailer:



The publisher is generously donating a copy of With My Hands for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post telling us about one of your favorite things to make no later than midnight (EDT) March 30, 2018. You may also enter by sending an email with “HANDS” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only, please. Good Luck!



Really enjoyed hearing about your fave Simon and Garfunkel songs and memories last week. You mentioned a few songs I hadn’t heard in a long time and it was nice to listen to them again.

We are pleased to announce that the lucky person who’ll receive a brand new copy of WHEN PAUL MET ARTIE is:











Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book.

Thanks to everyone for entering the giveaway. ๐Ÿ™‚



I will be posting a roundup of kidlit events again in April. If youโ€™re doing something special on your blog and youโ€™d like to be included in the roundup, please send your info and links to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Would appreciate your helping to spread the word, too. Thanks!


The lovely and talented Laura Purdie Salas is hosting the Roundup at Writing the World for Kids. Drop by to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend!

*Interior spreads posted by permission, text copyright ยฉ 2018 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, illustrations ยฉ 2018 Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson, published by Clarion Books. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee (at no cost to you). Thank you for your continued support.

***Copyright ยฉ 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

56 thoughts on “[review + giveaway] With My Hands: Poems About Making Things by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater, Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

  1. I love this post. You and Mr. Cornelius did a beautiful job showcasing this beautiful book! (I too blogged about it today! Yay!) And yay for all the Poetry Friday makers who inspire us each and every week. xo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like such a fun, cute book – my 4-yr-old daughter is quite the artiste, so this is the perfect book for her (she already has enjoyed some of Amy’s other books). And considering how much my 8-yr-old son loves cooking, I’m glad Amy included food! I’m so happy for Amy that she’s doing so well with her poetry…thanks for sharing this ,Jama.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh yes, this does sound perfect for your daughter, Matt! And how much do I love that your son enjoys cooking?! Fabuloso!


  3. I love sketching, no matter that I’m not great, it still pleases me to try to capture something in art as well as words. Beautiful post, Jama. Each page you shared makes a fabulous pair with the poems. It is a wonderful thing when kids make something “with their hands”. Thanks to you for the wonderful review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice to hear you enjoy sketching, Linda — and it’s good to do something simply because you love it. “I made it myself” is the best feeling.


  4. Oh my tinkering heart, this book looks wonderful! Congratulations, Amy and thanks for introducing this, Jama.
    I’ve tinkered with calligraphy, fused glass, chair caning, and knitting. But my camera is the thing that most helps me slow down and look closely.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I have a copy of this wonderful book already, and you highlighted so many things I love about it! Watercolor and knitting are my two crafty attempts in recent years. (But if I win, pick someone else:>) Amy’s poems are magic here, capturing the joy and the deeper importance of creation.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great job showcasing this book, Jama. Now I want a copy!!! Would I be so lucky as to win :)! This would be an awesome companion book for a makerspace. You asked us to share what we like to make … I think I like baking pies and cookies best.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I know just the young person that needs this book right now…..I gotta wait?! Argh! Thank you for sharing this gem. So many of us are makers and we feel “odd” because it’s not really celebrated. But, now….it is! Ta da!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All makers should be celebrated, especially now — because there are too many people who are bent on breaking apart and tearing down.


  8. What a delight and a celebration of making things! Thank you for sharing this gem. I hope to read it for myself soon and share it with the little makers in my life!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, I didn’t know Amy had another book coming out! It looks delightful.The language craft in Glitter Picture is whoa-amazing! (I had to create a new word there to capture my jaw dropping admiration!) I tend to be a baker and a picture taker.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love everything Amy VanDerwater writes. This book is absolutely charming. I have a copy, so no need to enter me in the drawing. Thanks for a beautiful post. Your posts always are so enchanting.


  11. A maker starts with
    an empty space
    and stuff.

    Love this ingredient listโ€”spot on! Of course the curse of the maker is the ever-shrinking lack of time to finish what one’s started. LOL! Please tell Mr. C and Tiny Bear Chef that the cookies are delicious, Jama (as was your post). ๐Ÿ™‚ No need to enter me in the drawing.

    Liked by 1 person

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